Saturday, 28 December 2013

Interview With Alexa Scimeca And Chris Knierim


What Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim have accomplished in a very short amount of time is really a testament to where really, really hard work can take you in a skating career. Teaming up in April 2012, they went on to win a silver medal at the U.S. National Championships in their first season competing together. Previously, skating with Ivan Dimitrov, Scimeca's best (and only) finish at the U.S. Nationals was 10th the previous year. Knierim's best finish on the senior level was a 7th the same year, competing against his soon-to-be partner. Scimeca and Knierim's relatively short partnership has also been marred by injury, but it has certainly not stopped the dynamic and daring duo. After winning the bronze medal at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial, the Colorado based pair went on to finish in the top 6 at both of their Grand Prix assignments (China and Russia) and look towards the 2014 U.S. Nationals in Boston as very legitimate contenders to make the U.S. Olympic team. Alexa and Chris took time out of their holiday season to talk about their fast success, season to date, favourite skaters and much more in this "exclusive interview":

Q: You've only been together since April of 2012, but you've already had a ton of success, winning the U.S. silver medal last season and placing in the top 10 at your first World Championships... in your first season competing together. Did you think this level of success would come so soon and what has this success meant you both deep down? 

A: Neither one of us thought this success what happen so quickly. We are forever grateful we could step onto the international scene so quickly. It has been both of our dreams to compete at Worlds. This first season together was an eye opener to what we can do in the future. It has given us courage to believe in ourselves! We are very proud of our skating.

Q: So far this season you've fared well at both of your Grand Prix assignments (Cup Of China and the Rostelecom Cup) and won a bronze medal at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial. What are you proudest of when you look at your season so far?

A: We thought our assignments this season were a little rocky, but improved each time we went out to perform. We are most proud that despite the severe injury and the shaky first two internationals, we kept pushing forward. We climbed the mountain and didn't look back. It takes a lot of mental power to rise above disappointment. We stayed strong and kept looking forward to Nationals.


Q: Speaking of U.S. Nationals in Boston, what would you say that your ultimate goals are for this event in particular and the rest of your season? 

A: Our ultimate goal is to skate better than at Cup of Russia. At each competition, we focus on skating better than the last competition. That is our best way to improve on ourselves and keep focused. We hope and believe that if we skate better than we did in Russia, we will accomplish our goal of making the 2014 Olympic team! Our goal for the season is to make it as long as possible!

Q: They say "first impressions are everything". How did you meet and what were your first impressions of each other?

A from Alexa: We first met when Chris picked me up from the airport for the tryout. We had seen each other at the previous U.S. Nationals but didn't talk. I thought Chris was cute from the beginning. My first impression was that he was good looking and hopefully his skating would be the same!

A from Chris: My first impression of Alexa was that she was really outgoing and I saw a great friendship coming my way.

Q: To say pairs skating is dangerous is just a tad of an understatement. What has been your scariest moment or closest call?

A from Alexa: My biggest fear was doing the one hand lasso. For some reason I was terrified of it all the way up until the 2013 Worlds! I have finally gotten over it... It's no big deal now! haha

A from Chris: Nothing for me in pair skating scares me, but I was frightened when I broke my leg this past July. It wasn't even on a "pair" element!


Q: What's your favourite flavor of ice cream?

A from Chris: Mint chocolate chip.

A from Alexa: Soft serve chocolate with sprinkles... or mint chocolate chip!

Q: What do you see as your biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses as a pair?

A: Our biggest weakness is the lack of time together. This is only our second season together. Our biggest strength is our genuine connection and lines on the ice. We also have very big throws and twists!

Q: Who are your favourite pairs teams of all time and why?

A: Volosozhar and Trankov and Gordeeva and Grinkov. We like these teams because they skate effortlessly and also have great extensions in their skating.


Q: Aside from technical ability, what (in your opinion) really makes a GOOD pairs team?

A: A great work ethic and a solid understanding of one another. A great pair team can set aside differences and get the job done. They work together and try to make that best training environment for one another.

Q: How do you think you'd do as ice dancers?

A from Chris: I would be really excited to try their innovative lifts!

A from Alexa: I think I would have great expression!

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A from Alexa: I'm very outgoing and full of energy.

A from Chris: I'm very shy.

Q: If you had to describe yourselves in one word or phrase, what would it be and why?

A from Alexa: Sparkly.

A from Chris: Laid back.

Was this your cup of tea? Well, don't just stand there! In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Future Of The Blog


Imagine being an ice dancer who is 17th in the world. Last year, they were 18th, the year before 20th. Being 17th in the world is honestly something to be very proud of, as is improving over time, but it's still 17th. That ice dancer puts the best programs they can out there every season, works very hard and does their very best but they are still 17th. We've SEEN so many of these ice dancers and as a blogger, I've been really starting to relate.


There are a lot of websites with interesting pointers on how to promote your blog and make it a smashing success and I've read a lot of them in recent months. I've done many things they suggested - they had great suggestions for the most part! Promoting your writing on social media and maximizing how you USE social media, networking (as much as I hate the word and concept) and also going to popular skating forums like Golden Skate and Figure Skating Universe and getting the word out there are all important. That said, the way the business world might hop on a blog train isn't the same way the figure skating community always gravitates to something. The truth of the matter? I love to write, research and learn. It's part of who I am. I sincerely LOVE skating and have since long before I even skated myself. Ask my amazing Mom - she was my biggest cheerleader when I skated and faithfully reads this blog and always calls me to talk about every interview and article. It puts a smile on my face without fail! What I find challenging is the 'marketing' aspect. I think the kinds of things I tend to focus on - history, artistic and professional skating, people's stories, obscure tidbits, visits to the void - are more of a niche than what most skating sites serve up. Marketing a niche isn't easy. If you have a hat store that only sells blue hats next to a store that sells really popular red ones, you've got a challenge on your hands. It's not about selling as many hats as the red hat store, it's about staying open so people who like blue hats have a place to go and shop. In the real world where everything comes down to money, the sad reality is that a lot of those blue hat stores close.

You won't find results or play-by-plays of ISU competitions here. Jackie Wong and many others on Twitter do a fabulous job of covering competitive skating. I also rarely watch live feeds. Why badly compete with something that already receives in-depth, excellent coverage? Allison Manley's The ManleyWoman Skatecast is really the place to go for amazing, amazing interviews. Allison Scott's Life On The Edge Of Skating always makes me smile. Peter Murray at Blazing Blades, Carl Moseley, Vlad, Tony Wheeler, P.J. Kwong, Sylvia on Twitter, Randy Gardner's The Rink, Hot Blades Hot Passion, Sportfolio... And dozens more. To name every person I admire who's covering skating out there would be a blog in itself.  

While I appreciate the topics I write about kind of veer off from the cozy and comfortable and the blog's name and my writing style might not be for everybody in the club, I'd be lying if I said I don't get discouraged. While I've been getting wonderfully supportive feedback from friends, family and new friends in the skating community, I feel like I'm writing up in this bubble sometimes. It kind of is a bubble. I'm in Halifax and work a full time job that pays my rent, bills and for my sweet, sweet Pinot Grigio. I don't get the time off nor make the money to jetset around to every event I'd like... Nor any really. I won't be in Ottawa, Boston or Sochi, not that I'd be dying to go really. I'd love to go to Ottawa and cheer on Meagan and Eric or to Boston to see Jeremy steal the show or to Sochi to see Brian Boitano and Billie Jean King strut their stuff! Who wouldn't? The places I'd love to go more than anywhere are these wonderful ice theatres plopping up all over the States, to Sun Valley, to California... To these wonderful places where skating just blooms like lilacs. It's not all about those missed trips, though... There's more to it than that.

A lot of figure skating fans just quite frankly don't give a flying kerfrickenfluten (loves me some Rose Nylund) about anything but the top ranked skaters in the world. If you mention artistic skating, the response you get is how artistic Yuna Kim is, or Mao Asada or Yuzuru Hanyu. Anything or anyone else is non-existent. Showing them a video of an ice dance team other than Davis and White or Virtue and Moir is a mistake. It's just not important. You show them a video of Adam Blake's Kwanonymous and get a confused shrug. "That's weird! I don't get it!" They don't care about ice theatre or things like YAS because they're not those 15 current skaters in their mind all doing the same programs to different music. I'm not bashing these kinds of fans - you know what, love who you love and love anyone who's getting out there and skating their heart out. It's just a different audience. 

As a reader, you are my audience and I love how diverse and wonderful you all are. The emails, tweets and Facebook comments I get show me loud and clear that there are so many of you who 'get it'. Whether you agree or disagree with the way competitive skating is judged, skated and marketed or not right now, you care about the sport. You realize that we need to think outside that bubble, talk, listen to different perspectives and even look to the rich history and past of skating to see that great skating is timeless. To make a moment on the ice, all you need is two skates, a song and a camera. We live in the YouTube age of Jenna Marbles and that adorable little Joey Graceffa. It's nice to see more skaters are grasping that. A great example? The Shibutani's. Look what their doing! Look at Mark Hanretty's aerial silks act, at YAS! As much as IJS is killing artistry and individuality, there IS an artistic revolution going on and the only way you're not seeing that is if you choose to be ignorant to it. 

One of the smartest things someone can do is reach out and ask for help when they really need it. In order for this blog to succeed into the new year, I honestly need yours. I don't want a dime of your money. I have a job and a busy life outside of maintaining the blog. I write because it makes me smile. What I do need is for you to help spread the word. Tell a friend! Tweet about the blog. Talk about it on Facebook. Post about it on skating forums. I've got all kinds of great interviews lined up (including the blog's second Olympic Gold Medallist) and articles already written as well as other new ideas, but unless there are more Facebook "likes" and retweets and shares (which equal readers in this day and age), the audience isn't going to grow and I'm just going to get bitchier and start complaining about Evan Lysacek all the time. And I've been doing so good! I have no interest in bashing skaters or being sensationalistic to gain viewers. Not my bag. Sorry bout it! Seriously though, that's what I'd love from you all for Christmas... To help me help skating in some very small way. I feel like "Merry Xmas (War Is Over)" should be playing. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Twas The Night Before Sochi


Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (widely known as "Twas The Night Before Christmas") is the stuff Christmas dreams are made of, a beloved holiday poem that transcends culture and language. Speaking of beloved, there's absolutely nothing any proper person loves more than a little skating in their life and few people in the skating world as iconic and beloved than 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist and skating legend Dick Button, whose book "Push Dick's Button" is out now (buy it on Amazon here). So, in keeping with the 'festive season' and the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia, here's my holiday take on a Christmas classic, complete with a little St. Dick:

Twas the night before Sochi and all through the rink
Not a skater was lutzing, or flutzing I think
Trankov's yellow pants were hung in the dressing room with care,
In hopes that Dick Button soon would be there.

The judges were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of edge calls danced in their heads
Ashley Wagner in pink and Jeremy Abbott in black
Had both settled in for a long winter's nap.

When in the Athlete's Village there arose such a clatter,
the skaters sprang from their beds to see what was the matter.
Away to the windows they flew in a pack,
To see if St. Dick had arrived with his sack.

The moon on the breast of the cold Russian snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to the Village below.
When, what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight skate-clad reindeer.

With a jolly driver, so lively and quick,
In a minute they knew it must be St. Dick!
More rapid than spread eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Salchow! Now, Henie. Now, Fleming And Hamill!
On, Axel! On Buttle! On Layback And Camel!
To the top of the rink! To the top of the wall!
Now skate away! Skate away! Skate away all!"

As so the sleigh landed and he looked around
And let his sack of presents fall down to the ground.
"Let's get down to business," St. Dick exclaimed.
"We won't be having any tomfoolery or reindeer games!"

"Make those layback spins first rate and those landings tight!
I don't give a rusty hoot what they say, you must do it right!
Keep your back straight, and gosh sakes, hold that edge!
Get your hair cut - get the Dorothy Hamill wedge!

Don't make those referees blow on their whistles!
You better be sure that you nail those twizzles!
There needs to a little more swan in that Swan Lake
Extend that free leg and don't let it shake!

If that doesn't put a fanizzle in their shanizzle nothing else will!
Show them your best! Show them your skill!
Bamboozle them with your feet and not with your hands!
Then they'll be cheering all through the stands!

For you fine young ladies and you fine young men,
all deserve a level ten!"
One skater shouted "but it only goes to five!"
St. Dick laughed and let out a sigh.

"The biggest gift that you can give them is your best skate.
Just do your best and make it first rate!
There's no time for sleep, get on that ice quick!
Practice all night! And watch that toe pick!"

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But they heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Gold medals for all, and to all a good night!"

Was this your cup of tea? Well, don't just stand there! In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Firebird: Deconstructing A Toller Cranston Magnum Opus


Toller Cranston's impact on figure skating isn't something you can measure by 6.0's, PCS scores or even applause. Quite arguably the most daring and influential skater of the 20th Century, Toller used skating as a means to an end and to say that the art that he so beautifully has shared with us both on and off the ice is innovative and beautifully expressive is really the understatement of whatever century you like. His successes in competition (both "amateur" and professional), as a performer, artist, commentator, writer and human are so larger than life that it's really so easy to forget just how genius his skating itself really was. It wasn't just fresh, exciting and relevant when he skated it. It's still fresh, exciting and relevant now. 

Toller's many accomplishments as a professional and rich, layered, groundbreaking and vibrant style was irrelevant and irreverent to his amateur career. He was fortunate enough to be Canadian Champion from 1971-1976 and a World and Olympic Medallist but the true freedom of expression and movement that was afforded to Toller through both show skating and the professional competition model really gave him the best possible vehicle for his light to shine on the ice in my opinion. When asked what makes Toller so special and about his relevance to skating to this day, Douglas Webster of The Ice Theatre Of New York beautifully opined that "Toller's exuberant personality and grandiose flair was (and is still) so full of life and joy for the moment... the ability to say in one fabulous position... here I am; my heart, my soul, my being is filled right now and I'm going to share it with you. That is always relevant to being who you are and saying it without abandon. There is true joy in that."

To show just how exciting, fascinating and relevant his work still is, I wanted to examine and deconstruct one of his biggest tour de forces as a professional (and one of my personal favourites) - Toller's Firebird program set to Salsoul Orchestra's "Magic Bird Of Fire". This is not your IJS watered down "Firebird" program, baby. This is how it's done properly. I'm linking two videos below of Toller's performances of this iconic program so you can watch and compare:



Toller's repetition of movement in this piece is really groundbreaking as the use of repetition of movements in 3's or 4's for dramatic effect wasn't something that we saw a lot of in choreography of eligible programs until Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean started stealing shows with their choreography not only for themselves but for the Duchesnay's as well. In this program, we not only see the repetition of those kick like movements but also in the Russian split moves (performed four times in the World Professional Championships performance and thrice in the International Professional Championships/Labatt ProSkate effort). Toller also repeats the broken leg spin and the double stag jump which he performed earlier in the program and in the middle of his jump series with the triple Salchow. What's interesting about the repetition of jumps and spins in a technical program for dramatic effect is that he's making use not only of the music but demonstrating his ability to perform technical elements TO music. The timing of a jump or a spin TO your music not only shows your technical ability and sense of timing but your confidence as well. It just exudes in this performance, which I love.

"I strive to be new and different all time. I'm always searching and I'm never content with one choreographic routine. I've just got to change all the time and be different. And so I think with my skating performances, as far as skaters are concerned, there's always a certain amount of excitement because they're unexpected. I mean, they never know what I'll do next," Toller revelled. And that's really what it came down in Toller's skating. There was not only this controlled abandon but an ever changing tableau, almost like an artist being asked to paint the same painting twice but drawing the bowl of fruit on the table differently each time. One day it's an apple, another an orange, and the third day you go back and see a giant pineapple and are like say whaaaaat? Toller's programs were always quintessentially him, but details changed from performance to performance. He kept it fresh. The jump sequence changed from performance to performance as do spins, details in footwork and arm movements although the general layout and choreography remain remarkably consistent. Nathan Birch, who skated with John Curry's Company and started The Next Ice Age, felt that "what makes Toller such an incredible improviser is that he knows his music intimately down to every note, beat, and intonation. This fact allows his freedom to reign unabashed and perfectly imperfect, in a way we all wish we could experience abandon. He remains a great inspiration to every artist of the ice or any medium." 

As impeccable as his timing and choreography are, it's really his expression of the music that stands out in "The Firebird" and each and every Toller Cranston performance we've been blessed to witness. CBC skating commentator PJ Kwong offered that "when I was a young skater, I remember watching Toller Cranston with a high degree of fascination. Like some kind of rare and colourful bird it was impossible to not watch and be completely enthralled. Toller’s Firebird was the perfect expression of this iconic music and beautifully costumed to boot. He definitely put the ‘Fire’ in Firebird." 

That timing, that choreography and passion for expression... and fearlessness to be himself was really something that was consistent throughout Toller Cranston's performances and career. The joy and the flair he possessed as a skater were the exception, not the rule and to this day, we've certainly seen some very innovative and risk taking skaters (mostly in professional skating) but there has never been another Toller Cranston. There never will be. One thing's for sure, "The Firebird" is a real gem.

Was this your cup of tea? Well, don't just stand there! In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Interview With Amanda Evora


In 2010, Amanda Evora and her partner Mark Ladwig achieved their ultimate goal in their lengthy partnership, representing the U.S. at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. Now a graduate of the University Of South Florida, a successful pairs coach and was most recently the winner of CBC's hugely popular series Battle Of The Blades with her hockey player partner Scott Thornton (who has played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings). Amanda has rekindled her love affair with skating and was kind enough to take time away from her busy coaching and holiday season to talk about her eligible career with Ladwig, Battle Of The Blades win, the way figure skating is judged, her favourite skaters and her future. An absolute must read for all of you skating fans!:

Q: In September, I interviewed your former partner Mark Ladwig! He talked about your goal of making programs that connected with audiences and your belief in skating every program to the best of your abilities. Sharing an Olympic experience together and achieving your dreams must have been so fulfilling! When you reflect on your career together, what made your partnership so ultimately successful?

A: The fundamentals of having a successful partnership were there - trust, common goals, and hard work. Our belief in longevity cultivated these fundamentals. We understood many of our common goals were long-term and would take time to develop. It was our hard work through the years that allowed us to take opportunities when they presented themselves.


Q: You have represented the United States at Grand Prix events, the Four Continents Championships, World Championships and at the Olympics in Vancouver, where you finished within the top ten. Looking back on all of your travels - all of those competitions and experiences - what are your proudest moments? 

A: I have been so fortunate to have so many proud moments in skating. By far, the 2010 U.S. Championships where we were selected onto the Olympic Team was my ultimate moment. Going into U.S. Championships, we knew we had an outside chance making the Olympics never placing higher than fourth at US Championships before that point. We were underdogs and in 3rd after the short program. Heading into the long, my only concerns were having the chance to show our improvements from the year before, under the pressure of it being an "Olympic year." Our free skate was nowhere near perfect, but as our program continued, the quality of our elements and performance level just continually got better. The energy level of the whole arena just electrified. You could see the excitement and satisfaction from our faces in the nosebleed section of the arena. At the end of the program, I remember thinking "This is why you never give up. Moments like these make it totally worthwhile." Mark and I had skated first in the last warm up so we had three pair teams behind us before knowing what placement we would get. At the end of the competition, it was just the frosting on the cake that we ended up being 2nd, and heading the Olympics! Clearly skating at the Olympics was one of my proudest moments as well in my life representing the U.S. I thought of it as a celebratory performance. Our goal was making the Olympic team. With a little less pressure at the Olympics, we aimed to be in the top half of the competition, which we successfully did placing 10th out of 20.  Our short program in Vancouver was probably one of our best performances of our career.


Q: The Battle Of The Blades experience with Scott Thornton... when did you get the call to participate? 

A: I got the call from Sandra Bezic in late spring. I had spoken in Tanith Belbin and Kim Navarro regarding their opinions on the show. Knowing how great of an opportunity it was, my only concerns were making sure it worked with my other job requirements. With the support of my fellow coaches and my office job, I accepted skating on the Battle Of The Blades sometime in June.


Q: How would you sum up the entire experience of going from skating with Mark Ladwig, who's obviously a great figure skater to skating with a hockey player?

A: First of all, accepting to be on the show, you are accepting and trusting the whole entire experiment. I was definitely prepped well taking the advice from former skaters on the show, listening to my head choreographer/coach Michael Seibert, and doing my own research watching and learning from the past Battle Of The Blades seasons. Scott and I had similar mentalities and attitudes. I have to thank Battle Of The Blades for doing so well matching us. We both believed in hard work, so we developed trust in each other quickly.


Q: I still can't get over the sheer courage you displayed in doing triple twists on Battle Of The Blades with a HOCKEY PLAYER. That's insane! People just don't do that! Did you ever dream you'd win?

Q: Scott was fit and well trained. His understanding of movement made it easy for him to understand the technique of the twist and throw. It was his consistency of his technique that what made me confident in advancing the twist into a triple. The thought of breaking new grounds such as being the first skater to do a triple twist with a hockey player just gave me more motivation to do it. What could be our potential? Pushing our limits and seeking excellence became our common goal. Going into Battle of the Blades, I didn't even think I would have a chance in winning even though of course we all wanted that. Being a rookie and a non-Canadian, I was just thankful that Scott would think I was a good enough partner. Once we had completed the triple twist and made the top three, our last performance was just a celebratory performance and it was truly up to the audience who their favourite was. The fact that we raised $100,000 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation still blows my mind, and I am just thankful I was put into a position where I was able to help such a worthy cause.


Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Growing up, Scott Hamilton was my idol. I loved how he entertained the audience and clearly understood how he felt being so short! It was only when I got older and understood his entire story, did I have even more respect for the man. When I became a pair skater, Katia Gordeeva was another one of my idols. I even read the entire "My Sergei" book. I remember watching her Tribute To Sergei skating show, and just being so in awe with her strength and obviously in tears watching. I got to meet her for the first time on the Battle Of The Blades. Not only did I finally get to meet her, but she taught all the Battle teams for a day. I only got to learn from her for an hour and a half, but it was such a privilege to work with her and listen to her ideas and thoughts. Amazing. Kristi Yamaguchi was another childhood idol. I remember watching her win the Olympics and wanting to skate like her when I was a little girl.


Q: What movie could you watch over and over again?

A: A skating movie I could watch over and over again is Blades Of Glory. I think any skater could appreciate all the humor in the movie!

Q: Having competed under both the 6.0 and IJS systems, which do you prefer and do you think the way the sport is judged and promoted now has helped or hurt the skaters and fans of the sport? If you could change one thing about the way pairs skating is judged under IJS what would it be?

A: Having competed under both the 6.0 system and IJS, I do prefer the IJS from a judging standpoint. Under the IJS, there is an exact value for each element being performed, giving a better systematic formula for the skater to understand the result. It allows more movement between placements, it doesn't matter if you skate first or las, and the skater knows how much technical value that are attempting before their performance. I do believe the IJS has pushed the limits of what the skaters can do but has limited creativity and has become so complicated for the audience attending. Interest levels has continuously decreased through the years. It's also harder for skaters to continually produce consistent performances with the level of difficulty they are trying to achieve each time. Just like everything else in life, competitive skating is in a time of evolution and change. If I could change one thing in the IJS, it would be to encourage more creativity. I'm optimistic and believe there will be a happy medium between the two systems, but who knows where in the future.

Scott Thornton, Amanda Evora, Michael Seibert, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Paul Martini on the set of Battle Of The Blades

Q:  What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: Sticking to the theme of skating, most people don't know that when I was about 16, my parents wanted me to chose between two sports. They wanted me to try out starting pair skating or diving. My parents researched that many gymnasts become very good divers. They thought perhaps a skater would be good at diving as well. Just imagine if I chose diving instead... thank God I chose pair skating!

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?  Where do you see skating in 10 years?

A: In 10 years, I'll be 39/40. Yikes! I am not sure what I see myself doing in 10 years, however I am confident that I'll be in skating in some shape or form. As for skating, I think the team event is going to get more popular over the years. Let's hope it creates more interest for the sport after this Olympic Games!

Q: What's next for you? Will you be back for another season of Battle Of The Blades? Will you be competing in the ProSkaters professional competition in Sun Valley next summer?

A: The Battle Of The Blades experience helped bring back my love for performing again. As odd as this sounds, it taught me how to have fun! Sometimes in the competitive world when the pressure is so high, we forget to enjoy ourselves in the moment. I do hope my success after this show brings more performance opportunities. As of right now, I am focusing on the teams I assist as they finish their competitive season. I am so fortunately to be working with 2 Senior teams (Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay and Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea), a Junior team, 2 Novice teams, and a Senior man (Daniel Raad) who will be competing in the U.S. Championships coming up this January. As well, our British pair team Stacy Kemp and David King just officially made it to their second Olympics. These skaters are my priority right now wherever I can assist! Thank you for bringing up the ProSkaters competition in Sun Valley. I will have to do my research on it and see if that's something I could possibly do!

Was this your cup of tea? Well, don't just stand there! In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Monday, 16 December 2013

You're A Mean One, Mr. Cinq!


Since taking over the presidency of the ISU in 1994 from Norway's Olaf Poulsen, Italy's Ottavio Cinquanta has ruled "amateur" figure skating's governing body with an iron fist for almost fifteen years, implementing the IJS judging system that has turned figure skaters into clones. He allowed "The French judge" Marie-Reine Le Gougne back into the sport's good graces following the 2002 Salt Lake City scandal, illegally extended his own term by another 2 years (breaking the ISU's constitution) and even ignored petitions (plural) signed by millions of figure skating fans addressing concern after concern about the sport's governance and judging system. But, you know, it's the holiday season, and everyone deserves a little holiday cheer (in the style of Dr. Suess), even Mr. Grinch - I mean, Mr. Cinq...


"You're a mean one, Mr. Cinq.
You really are a sleaze.
You won't give up on IJS
Even though it's ruining the sport,
Mr. Cinq!
I wouldn't given your spin on things a level one.

You're a monster, Mr. Cinq.
You let Le Gougne back in the sport.
She would have been France's president
If not for thirty seven votes,
Mr. Cinq!
I wouldn't touch you with a
Thirty-nine and a half foot Skate Guard.

You're a vile one, Mr. Cinq.
ISU's constitution was broken for you.
Resolution No. 7 broke your very own rules,
Mr. Cinq!
Given the choice between you and Gailhaguet,
I'd rather a seasick Sally Stapleford.

You're a foul one, Mr. Cinq.
Every complaint just gets ignored.
From Yuna Kim in Sochi
to Denis Ten in 2013,
Mr. Cinq.

The three best words that best describe you,
Are as follows, and I quote
"Stink!
Stank!
Stunk!"

You're a rotter, Mr Cinq.
Where's your objective eye?
The mess that you've created
is staring you in the face,
Mr. Cinq.

IJS is an appalling dump heap
Overflowing with the most disgraceful
Assortment of deplorable ways to make skaters skate imaginable,
Mangled up in tangled up rules!

You nauseate me, Mr Cinq.
Please retire now!
Let someone else do it
Who isn't going to screw it,
Mr. Cinq.

You're a three-decker Salchow
And sardine sandwich,
With flutzy sauce!

Was this your cup of tea? Well, don't just stand there! In order for this blog to reach a wider audience, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right?

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Kurt Browning: 6.0 Of His Best Programs EVER!

Dustin Rabin photo

Trying to name 6.0 of Kurt Browning's best programs like trying to name 6 of Julia Child's best recipes, 6 of Tracy Chapman's best songs or 6 of one of those football people's best touchdowns or home runs or whatever it is they do. I don't know anything about the sports. I do know a thing or two about fantastic skating and as far as great technique, personality plus and a complete understanding of music and how to move to it, Kurt Browning is really one of the best the sport has ever seen. He's a skater you can't help but like, smile with and want to succeed. He just has that twinkle in his eye that makes you feel completely at ease knowing that he's going to entertain the bejesus out of you. As it snows and blows outside, I'm nestled under a blanket with genmaicha tea poured to the brim of my favourite handpainted mug. I'm not going anywhere and I'm in the mood to be entertained and who better a skater to do it than Kurt. Do the same! Get all cozy, get yourself a hot beverage (I sound like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory) and take a minute to take in 6.0 of Kurt's best programs:

SERENADE TO SONIA


Dedicated to his then fiance Sonia Rodriguez, this program led Kurt to a win at the 1996 Canadian Professional Championships and 1996 World Professional Championships. Set to a medley of music of Nat King Cole - Introduction, Are You Disenchanted?, Wouldn't You Know, Madrid and L-O-V-E, this program was not only rich in fabulous Sandra Bezic choreography but charm and genuine emotion. A classic.

BRICK HOUSE


I've been lucky enough to see this one live! I think this song is one of those pieces of music that I'll always associate with something - in this case, this program choreographed by Michael Seibert and Clarence Ford. This won Kurt the Canadian Professional Championships and was twice used as his artistic program at the World Professional Championships (1995 and 1997). Needless to say, he won with it both times and it speaks for itself. It's just a sexy good time kind of song and program. You can't go wrong.

LIGHTNING CRASHES


Where Kurt is so well known for his playful personality on the ice, you don't often really sit down and think/realize just how gifted he is at interpreting more serious or emotional pieces, but this program choreographed by Lea Ann Miller to "Lightning Crashes" by Live (skated at both the Ice Wars and Rock N' Roll Skating Championships in the 90's) is a prime example of Kurt rocking a darker, more emotional piece and just shining.

ANTARES


If I had to pick a personal favourite Kurt Browning program, "Antares" would probably be it to be honest. Chalked full of difficult technical elements, challenging and VERY musical footwork and layered with this moody depth to the choreography set to original music composed especially for Kurt by The Tragically Hip, this program was nothing less than a masterpiece. It won him the 1997 Canadian Professional Championships and 1997 World Professional Championships and was choreographed by Sandra Bezic.

RAG/GIDON/TIME


Debuted at the 1998 Sears Canadian Open, which Kurt won ahead of skaters like Michael Weiss, Brian Orser, Steven Cousins and Eric Millot, this hilarious program wasn't all clowning around. It meant business too and won Kurt the 1998 World Professional Championships, his third World Pro title. Set to the music of Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, this program was a joint effort of Sandra Bezic and Kurt and will be forever remembered as one of his best.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN


Singin' In The Rain... what can you say? I was so excited about the revival of this Sandra Bezic program when Kurt skated to it on this year's Stars On Ice tour. Getting to see it live was an absolute joy to watch. This program, as featured above, was first performed for Kurt's 1994 TV Special You Must Remember This and was brought back to life and reworked by Kurt in 2012 for the Medal Winners Open competition in Japan, the first true pro-am competition the sport had seen in some years. I think the only way to describe this program and do it justice is to say that it's like forgetting that you're watching skating. You're watching dance, you're watching theatre and you're watching magic too.

If you enjoyed this feature on Kurt Browning, be sure to always check back for more skater interviews and writing about everything under the sun in the skating world. There is also a Facebook page connected to the blog where all blog articles and interviews are shared - as well as current skating news, photos and videos of amazing skating. Give it a "like" at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. You can also follow me on the Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. I love talking figure skating and would love to talk about the sport with you!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Interview With William and Christina Beier


Skating is such an international language. Like love, its communication is cross cultural and is not limited to any one culture. No one knows this more than Christina and William Beier, the brother/sister ice dance that were born in the Philippines, became German National Champions and Olympians and along the way were risk takers, presenting vibrant programs using a variety of themes. Coached by Martin Skotnický, who worked with some of the world's most innovative ice teams such as Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay and Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko, the Beiers also left the sport with a vibrant and memorable footprint left behind. Now having moved on to other chapters in lives, it was my pleasure to catch up with the daring dance duo and reflect on their successful skating career.

Q: During your competitive skating careers, you won the German National title four times on the senior level (twice as Juniors) and competed at 5 European Championships, 3 World Championships and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Reflecting, what are your most precious memories from your days of competitive skating?

A: The highlight was definitely the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010. The whole event with the atmosphere and all the athletes was just great! But also, the 2006 World Championships in Calgary was really nice. At that competition, we could significantly improve in comparison to our first World Championships in 2005.


Q: You retired from competition after the 2010 Winter Olympics. How difficult was this decision and do you ever miss it?

A: Of course the decision was difficult, because the skating is our passion. We were also studying at the university and knew that we cannot do the sport for ever. So taking all facts together, we made the hard decision and wanted to focus on our study. After almost 4 years, we know that it was the right decision and we do not regret it. However, we always like to remember that time and sometimes also miss it.

Q: You were coached by Martin Skotnický, who worked with some of the most original and interesting ice dancers of all time, including Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay and Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko. What was your relationship with Martin like and what made him unique as a coach?

A: We had and still have a very good relationship. We appreciate his very professional style of being a coach and also his creativity and technical skills. He likes to work in details and is a perfectionist but he was also taking care that in our private life everything is fine. I think these attributes make him to a world class coach.


Q: What's your favourite song of all time?

A from Christina: "Stay" by Rihanna.

A from William: Tracy Chapman's "Baby Can I Hold You".


Q: If you were having someone over for supper, what would you cook for them?

A from William: A very nice steak with a French red wine

Q: You both were plagued by injury throughout your career as are many skaters. What are some simple things that every skater should be doing to try to avoid and work through injury?

A: First of all, if something hurts, take it serious and don't underestimate or force it. Otherwise later it will be worse and the pause will take longer. Secondly, during injury just stay relaxed and keep doing sports. But here also, don't force it or do never take medicines which kill the pain but not the cause.



Q: You were born born in the Philippines and moved to Germany in 1990. What was the culture shock of moving to a different continent and completely different culture like? What brought your family to Germany?

A: When you are a small child, the cultural shock is not that big. Also our father was a German, so we already had partly German culture in the Philippines. We didn't have problems with the language or with other children. I think the biggest shock was the cold weather in the winter.

Q: Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi, your former training mates and competitors have really
emerged as THE German dance team to beat right now and certainly as strong contenders internationally as well. How do you see their chances looking forward to Sochi?

A: Regarding their performance on the ice and their achievements internationally, the chance to go to Olympics in Sochi is very high in my opinion. We wish them all the best that they will make it.



Q: Where did you come up with the idea for your Hawaiian original dance in 2009/2010? I loved it!
How did you select music and make the dance authentic?

A: As very often, the idea came from Martin Skotnicky. We were then together looking for music. We look a little bit like Hawaiian people, so we thought it is a good idea. To make the dance authentic was not easy. We watched many movies and read books and magazines. We also were watching special Hawaiian dance movies.


Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A from William: Christina likes to cook spaghetti and I love to eat these spaghettis.

Q: Since ending your skating career, what have you been up to? Do you ever think that you'd be involved in performing again?

A from William: Christina is soon finalizing the study in communication and design. I studied international management and now working in the industry and it's quite successful. I moved to China as an expatriate, have a wife and a baby and a lot of work. Our lives are now very far from skating as we are already in a new chapter. So the chance to get involved in performing again is almost zero.

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next 30 minutes, we'll throw in this link to the blog's Facebook page, which has news, features and videos that aren't on the blog for the low, low price of free. That's right... I don't do this for PayPal donations or profit of any sort. I write this blog because I believe in great skating - artistic skating - and want to share stories about the sport's history, it's amazing skaters and areas of the sport you may not know enough about with as big of an audience as I can. All you have to do is "LIKE" it: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get 100 friends, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl".. haha. You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Say It Ain't Sochi: The Elephant In The Room


Not the shocking announcement that came out of NOWHERE today that 2010 Olympic Gold Medallist Evan Lysacek won't be competing this season. Another elephant.

The time has come to be a little real about the elephant that's been lazing in the room, grazing on negative GOEs and staring every skating fan who keeps abreast of the ISU's competition model in the face. It's the programs that are on the menu in eligible skating. It's what skaters need to accomplish in these programs to get the marks. It's objectively considering whether or not these programs and this style of skating is realistically marketable to new audiences and casual skating fans who may tune into NBC or CBC to watch a Grand Prix event on a Sunday afternoon. These are not the kind of viewers who necessarily know a triple flip/triple toe from a twizzle or even know live feeds exist (or go as far as to watch them), but they are TV audiences that keep skating on the air.

The recent Grand Prix Final was resplendent with some very high, high calibre skating but the real issue isn't with whether or not a skater eeked out a clean quad or triple/triple but with the programs themselves. Let's make up a skater. We'll call her Lesley Lutz. She's fabulous skating benchmark Janet Lynn with a mean triple lutz. She goes out, enthralls the audience with her emotional connection to her music, fabulous triple lutz and sensational spins. Mr. And Mrs. So-And-So who tune into CBC on a Sunday afternoon while their roast is slow cooking and just fall in love with her. They turn in the next week and even tell Mr. and Mrs. This-And-That at the grocery store how much they fell in love with Lesley Lutz's program. It moved them. This kind of thing used to happen. I'm Canadian. In Canada, you don't have to be a skating fan to know who Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, Liz Manley, Toller Cranston, Brian Orser, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz or Jamie Sale and David Pelletier are. That's kind of stopped and it's not even a generational thing. If you go up to someone on the street, even someone of a younger generation, these are still the names you're going to get. You're not going to get as many Patrick Chan's or Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's. You're not. It has NOTHING to do with their ability as skaters. We all KNOW they can skate their socks off. It all comes down to the kind of programs and competitions that are being marketed to fans and their emotional impact. It doesn't matter how great a skater you are if the vehicle itself is faulty.


Going back to the Grand Prix Final and talking about the kinds of performances on that menu, only a handful had that appeal to anyone watching. Maybe I'm watching a different show, but Yuzuru Hanyu or Mao Asada's performances didn't emotionally affect me in any way, shape or form, and I'm the kind of person who'll be moved to tears by a good power ballad or a puppy on a TV commercial. I don't think that's a healthy thing. There's the argument it's something as simple as the musical choices. There is something to that and I think next year when lyrics are allowed in mens, ladies and pairs competition, you'll see a little more variety (hopefully) in people's music and choreography choices. It's a lot easier to get behind someone skating to music they recognize than an Edvin Marton or Bond piece, for instance. There's more to it than that though. It's really the program structure that it takes to win a competition these days. I've talked a lot about the mathematical, cold approach to choreography that many of the world's top choreographers use these days but hey, you can't really say anything, it works. Sadly, the effect is about as emotionally impacting as a floor routine in gymnastics. The music is often merely there as background. The skaters who do put great choreography out there may be rewarded with deserving PCS scores or they may not. Therein the problem lies. An easy solution? There isn't one. Change is a start. The reality is that until the ISU finally recognizes the elephant, nothing will change and the only Lesley Lutzes will see won't be on any podiums or television broadcasts, they'll be buried in the standings after falling on three jumping passes trying to fit all of the crap that they need to into their programs to make it to the top. We already see it happen and it's not right and it's not OK.

So what happens next? Well, let's look into a crystal ball. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov win Olympic gold, despite their loss to Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy at the Grand Prix Final. Qing Pang and Jian Tong have as good as won bronze in pairs as some skating fans who only go by the results of the most recent competition they watch would have you believe, based on their result in Fukuoka. Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are 1-2 in ice dance, Yuna Kim repeats as gold medallist in ladies, followed by Mao Asada and Hanyu and Chan are both men's medallists. That's one obvious scenario to anyone who can read graffiti on a rink wall. The elephant in the room thoughtfully chews on a hearty PCS score Mr. And Mrs. So-And-So are befuddled by.

Another is that someone else skates lights out and gives that emotional performance, that special Olympic moment with the same impact of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier's "Love Story" free skate that broke the flying camel's back and ushered in a new judging system. If that someone wins the gold medal, the elephant in the room stomps off in a huff and Mr. and Mrs. So-And-So rejoice and keep watching skating.

The third scenario - and call it a hunch - is the most likely one. Someone wins a medal with an error plagued program with no emotional impact over someone who skates fabulously and Mr. and Mrs. So-And-So stare at their TV in disbelief and disgust, just as they did when watching the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Lesley Lutz is robbed. That's pretty much the only thing that could possibly change the IJS system at this point until someone finally succeeds Ottavio "Speedy" Cinquanta as ISU President. And you know full well that if someone with any brain in their heads or sense of marketing gets in there, that's exactly what they're going to do anyway. The sad truth is that it may take that sacrificial lamb with a lights out, awe inspiring program and performance being robbed on skating's biggest stage to change things. Never forget that the Winter Olympics draws out a lot more viewers than any live feed ever will, and what skating fans may tolerate, the general public and media won't. If you think they care about someone's level on their spin combination you're sadly mistaken. They judge what they see and rejoice in the best performance. Let's hope and pray it doesn't come to that sacrificial lamb scenario but my spidey sense has an uneasy feeling. But what do I know? Bring on the floor routines. That seems to be what a lot of people want. Not this big old flamer, and I'm not afraid to 'scream it from the rooftops'. Who's got a ladder?

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next 30 minutes, we'll throw in this link to the blog's Facebook page, which has news, features and videos that aren't on the blog for the low, low price of free. That's right... I don't do this for PayPal donations or profit of any sort. I write this blog because I believe in great skating - artistic skating - and want to share stories about the sport's history, it's amazing skaters and areas of the sport you may not know enough about with as big of an audience as I can. All you have to do is "LIKE" it: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get 100 friends, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl".. haha. You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Interview With Natalia Bestemianova


Jayne Torvill, Christopher Dean, Marina Klimova, Sergei Ponomarenko, Pasha Grishuk, Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir, Natalia Linichuk... these are just a few of the names of the select but mighty crew of the world's best ice dancers who have achieved the ultimate goal in skating: winning an Olympic gold medal. That list gets even smaller if you add a second Olympic medal to the list... or tack on 4 world titles, 3 world silver medals, 5 European titles, a World Professional title, 3 Soviet national titles and wins at important international and professional competitions. Not only were Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin two of the most talented ice dancers that the sport was seen, they are two of the most enduring ice dance teams in the sport period. Still performing regularly in Russia, Korea and around the world as part of Natasha's husband Igor Bobrin's Russian Stars On Ice (Bobrin Ice Theatre), Natalia and Andrei are also two of the most innovative, creative and daring ice dance teams the sport has honestly ever seen. What Toller Cranston and Gary Beacom are to singles skating, B&B (as they are affectionately called by fans) are really that ground breaking, 'push the envelope' team in ice dance. With husband Igor acting as choreographer, Natalia and Andrei's performances in professional competitions, shows and tours and to this day in the Bobrin Ice Theatre, are really the kinds of skating performances that just make you drop your jaw in awe. Tackling everything from classical themes like "Romeo And Juliet" to the hauntingly beautiful and intense story of "Rasputin" to comedy and avant garde pieces, there is really nothing that Natalia and Andrei can't or won't do. That's what I love about them. When you're presenting art in any physically expressive way like dance, pantomime or skating, you need to be bold. You need to convey your message and draw your audience into the story. It needs to be larger than life. With the kind assistance of Bobrin Ice Theatre's Svetlana Benedictova, it was my absolute pleasure to make a little history here on Skate Guard and interview my first Olympic Gold Medallist and one of my own all time favourites. Natasha wanted to kindly stress that "these are her answers and perhaps Andrei has got another opinion". I've included many rare videos of some of B&B's most daring and brilliant performances. Take the time to watch each and every one of them. You might want to watch some of them twice just to digest the depth to each piece. Also, do both Natasha and I a favour - please take the time share this interview! I don't think enough skating fans really have any ideal of just how brilliant their programs as professionals are, and I'd love to see more people exposed to their brilliant work. It makes my heart smile a little. "Without further ado", ladies and gentlemen... 1988 Olympic Gold Medallist Natalia Bestemianova:

Q: I want to start by saying I think you are just fabulous. In winning the silver medal at the 1984 Winter Olympics behind Torvill and Dean in Sarajevo and the gold at the 1988 Games in Calgary, you and Andrei became part of an elite club of skaters to win Olympic gold and did it with such confidence and great programs. Taking into account your 5 European titles and 4 World titles as well, what would you say was your proudest moment from your eligible or "amateur" career?

A: The proudest moment was and remains the Olympic gold medal.

Polovetsian Dances: Natalia and Andrei's winning free dance at the 1988 Calgary Olympics

Q: What I don't think enough people realize is the scope of your work as a professional skater. You, Andrei and your husband Igor Bobrin have really been instrumental in giving professional and artistic skating a venue and voice in Russia with the Ice Miniature Theater and Moscow Stars On Ice (Bobrin Ice Theatre). You are all truly pioneers in ice theatre and are also U.S. Open and World Professional Champions. Why is artistry and creativity so important in skating?

A: All of the skaters perform figure skating elements - some a little better, others a little worse. If you want to be remembered, you have to add to these elements artistry, musical talent and of course, interesting programs.

Rasputin, as skated in the gala at the 1993 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague

Q: You have really touched the hearts and minds of audiences around the world with the creativity of so many of your professional programs. From comedy to dramatic to avant garde to completely one of a kind, you always have seemed to come up with something different. Where did you get the ideas for many of your amazing programs, in particular "The Witch" and "Rasputin"?

A: Our professional programs including "The Witch" and "Rasputin" were put together by Igor Bobrin.

The Witch, as performed at the 1997 Legends Of Figure Skating Competition, an expanded presentation based on their earlier program "Pictures At An Exhibition"

Q You've choreographed programs for many of the world's best including fellow Olympic Gold Medallists Oksana Baiul, Sarah Hughes, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. Who are your favourite people you have worked with?

A: The most favourite skaters with whom we worked were Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali.

Their "Rock Around The Clock" technical program at the 1996 World Team Championships

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Toller Cranston, Ludmilla Belousova and Oleg Protopopov and Janet Lynn. Thanks to these skaters I started to skate. One can have an idol in childhood but in the process of growing up and gaining more and more experience it is hard to see a single person as your idol.

B&B's stunning interpretation of "Romeo And Juliet" from the 1997 Legends Of Figure Skating Competition

Q: What are your thoughts on the current IJS judging system and the elimination of compulsory dances from elite competition?

A: It is hard to answer shortly about the new system, but a very short answer would be "I do not like it very much".

Natalia and Andrei's winning "Iron Curtain" artistic program at the 1991 World Professional Championships

Q: Your former coach Tatiana Tarasova is a legend in her own right. What do you appreciate most about Tatiana and what is your relationship like today?

A: We are in very good relations with Tarasova now although we did not communicate much during all these years. Thanks to God, now everything is wonderful.

Natalia and Andrei's Leonard Berenstain Medley at the 1995 Legends Of Figure Skating Competition

Q: What is your absolute favourite food to prepare, favourite song and favourite book?

A: Vegetables stew and "I Will Survive" by Tina Turner. When I was a child, I loved all French classical writers, especially Victor Hugo. Now I like modern Russian writers Viktoria Tokareva and Boris Akunin.

Natalia and Andrei's "Rhapsody For Strings" program at the 1995 Skates Of Gold show

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I am a very calm and gentle person at home, nothing common with the image I perform on ice.

B&B's winning (and hilarious) "Bugs Bunny On Broadway" program from the 1991 World Professional Championships in Landover, Maryland

Q: What keeps you inspired to get on the ice and continue performing and pushing the envelope?

A: As I have already mentioned, I am a very gentle person, but if I do not perform on ice I will explode with the ideas and thoughts which come into my head. I skate not because I like it, I skate because I cannot live without it.

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next 30 minutes, we'll throw in this link to the blog's Facebook page, which has news, features and videos that aren't on the blog for the low, low price of free. That's right... I don't do this for PayPal donations or profit of any sort. I write this blog because I believe in great skating - artistic skating - and want to share stories about the sport's history, it's amazing skaters and areas of the sport you may not know enough about with as big of an audience as I can. All you have to do is "LIKE" it: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get 100 friends, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl".. haha. You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Interview With Stephen Carriere


One of the most challenging aspects of competitive figure skating is having the determination and stamina to stick with it and continue to constantly grow. After winning the U.S. Junior title in 2006, Stephen Carriere has managed to do just that and then some. The following season he won both of his Junior Grand Prix assignments, the Junior Grand Prix Final and the World Junior Championships, handily beating a couple skaters you might have heard of in the process. No one fancy. You know, just Patrick Chan, Kevin Reynolds, Tatsuki Machida, Takahito Mura, Florent Amodio, Michal Brezina, Denis Ten...certainly no one you'd know! Since then, he's medalled at 2 Senior Grand Prix Championships, won the U.S. Senior bronze medal, competed at the World Championships, won the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria and started off his season with a HUGE bang this year by finishing 2nd at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City. Considering the depth of the men's field in the U.S. right now, Carriere has easily kept within the top 10 every year he's competed on the Senior level and is certainly one of many skaters that are in very real contention for berths on this year's Four Continents, Olympic and World teams. Not only a fabulous skater, he's also certainly not hard on the eyes. Just sayin. Just puttin' that out there. Hey Girl Hey! Stephen took time out of his busy academic and skating schedule to talk about not only his competitive career and goals for this season but music, coaching and much more: 

Q: In addition to the U.S. junior title and 5 trips to the U.S. Nationals on a senior level (including a bronze medal in 2008), you've competed at the Four Continents Championships, World Championships, medalled internationally on the Senior Grand Prix and most recently, won a silver medal at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City. What have been your favourite moments from competition over the years? Your proudest accomplishments?

A: Making the world team was a fantastic experience. It is something that only a select number of U.S. skaters achieve, so being on that team was amazing, especially in the context of the Evan and Johnny tie. There was a lot going on that year. My 2008 season stood out, but I primarily do not really have a favorite event in particular.


Q: Looking at this season, what are your ultimate goals for this year? How do you think you have most improved this year specifically? 

A: I am looking forward to placing myself in the mix this year. In 2010, I was nowhere near, physically and emotionally, the position of being in the running for a spot on the Olympic team. Competing in the summer, and skating fairly well in Salt Lake helped boost my motivation to fight for myself more. It will be hard, but it’s exciting.

Q: You've skated to such a wide range of music throughout your career - everything from Louis Armstrong to classical music, film scores, The Pink Panther and Elvis Presley. Taking into account all of the competitive and exhibition programs you’ve ever skated, what are/were your favourites?

A: Each year I normally say this year’s program is my favourite, and I will say the same for my short and long this season but for much different reasons. When I contacted David and Tanith, I had a pretty concrete idea of what I wanted to do, but both of them added the expertise I sought them for and completely put new spins on the music I originally planned. For that, I really enjoyed creating the programs with them and I enjoy training them every day.


Q: What is the most beautiful piece of music or song you’ve ever heard?

A: I really love my show program I skated to this past season to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”. It came from such an emotional place at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement and just hearing it is amazing. I really enjoyed skating to it.



Q: I’ve talked with many skaters before about the difficulties of balancing elite level skating and a post-secondary education. I can't imagine how difficult that must be! You study corporate business at Boston College. What would be your dream business?  How do you find time to have a personal life and keep your stress level down while taking on so much?

A: I will be honest. My personal life is pretty nonexistent. During the week, I train pretty much all morning to early afternoon and then go to class. After that, I may have an hour or two more of training depending on the day, but then I proceed with two to three hours of readings, work, and papers. It can get very stressful, but at the same time I know it is a massive investment, so that keeps my head afloat. I think my dream job would be somewhere in the realm of consulting and incorporating my dedication to health and fitness in there somewhere. We will see.

Q: If you were backpacking through Europe and could only take 3 things with you, what would they be and why?

A: My phone, my wallet, and someone I love.



Q: Who is your favourite skater of all time and what skater do you most hope to emulate or "aspire to be more like”?

A: I do not aspire to be most like skaters in general. I enjoy following other athletes and find inspiration in people like Serena Williams, Manny Pacquiao, and Rafael Nadal more than a skater. I mean of course, I look to some skaters for motivation, but not often.

Q: You're coached by Suna Murray and have previously worked with Peter Johansson and Mark Mitchell in Boston as well as Priscilla Hill. What do you think the toughest part of coaching is and could you ever see yourself taking on that role?

A: Growing up, I have thought about that. Originally I thought the hardest part of coaching is seeing athletes come and go. Whether they move on to something or someone else, I thought that must be the hardest part. I realized with the help of Suna, that that is just the nature of the business. I find that watching the kids develop into good sportsmen and amazing people is most rewarding. The hardest thing I think of about coaching is working through incredibly hard times with the athletes, especially if the athlete is naturally a hard worker and a good kid. It kills to watch someone who wants it a ton and tries so hard not be able to break through a wall. The silver lining to that is that when they do, it is amazing. I have thought about coaching in my future and I have not ruled it out. I do want to be able to pursue other opportunities in my life. If I were to coach, I would try to lean more to the choreography side.



Q: What’s one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I’m addicted to working out. It’s because of the skating, but even on days I do not skate, I need to have clocked in at the gym.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A: All I am going to say is that I better have graduated from Boston College.

But WAIT... there's more! If you call within the next 30 minutes, we'll throw in this link to the blog's Facebook page, which has news, features and videos that aren't on the blog for the low, low price of free. That's right... I don't do this for PayPal donations or profit of any sort. I write this blog because I believe in great skating - artistic skating - and want to share stories about the sport's history, it's amazing skaters and areas of the sport you may not know enough about with as big of an audience as I can. All you have to do is "LIKE" it: http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard. If you get 10 friends to like, I'll throw in a big hug. And if you get 100 friends, let's just as I'm "that kind of girl".. haha. You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog.